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Astrology: Fact Or Fiction  

"So, what's your sign?" More than just a corny pickup line, astrology in various forms, has been with mankind for a very long time. People from various countries and cultures, have often looked up to the stars for guidance. Million of people read their daily horoscopes, though most look at it as a mere form of entertainment. Other people genuinely take the art of astrology very seriously and think it is a valid medium with which to predict a person's personality, as well as their immediate future (though most serious astrologers view magazine horoscopes as just being entertainment).

So where did it all get started? Around 3,500 years ago, the ancient Babylonians were attempting to correlate events that happened on earth (e.g. good crop yields, bad diseases) with things they noticed in the night sky. This was not the first time that this happened, either. Other ancient cultures, such as the Mayans and Aztecs, developed their own form of astrology too. Most of the astrology we see today, though, comes from India, Europe and China. All of it, though, is either deeply routed, or deeply influenced by Babylonian astrology.

Early astrologers simply correlated earthly events with celestial ones. It wasn't until mathematical astronomy developed (which allows us to predict the movement of stars and planets), around 612-539 BC, that astrologers started to "predict" the future. It was also around this time that the "twelve" signs of the zodiac, were created. The oldest recorded horoscope dates back to April 29th 410 B.C. It comes from an old clay plate that was made for the birth of a Grecian man. The tablet is very similar to the natal horoscopes given out today. Even more similar, though, is the vague prediction given about the person. The parts of the tablet that have still survive, state:

"...things will be good for you."

Early Babylonian astrologers were called: Chaldeans. They would set up shops in cities, and offer their services to passersby. Interestingly, it wasn't until they did this in Greece, that the concept of free will was entered into the equation. Ancient Greeks viewed these chaldeans as jokes, and their predictions to be patently false. They refused to believe that the stars themselves dictated their actions, and that they had no free will. Because of this, astrologers adopted the belief that the stars can only show "possible pathways" through life. This turned out to be a greater boon for the chaldeans and future astrologers, than it did for the Greeks. Now astrologers had a viable excuse for why their predictions did not always come true.

Finally, we come to the most influential man in astrology: Claudius Ptolemeaus. Also known as Ptolemy, he wrote the book: Tetrabiblos. In it, Ptolemeaus attempted to consolidate all the various aspects of astrology at the time, into some sort of viable standard. Tetrabiblos is generally regarded as the modern astrological "bible," from which all western astrology derives.

Okay, so now we see where it all got started, but what's with the surge in popularity? Astrology was on the downturn back in the 1600's, as astronomy really took off. It wasn't until the relatively recent events of World War I, that astrology really started to pick up again. So, why is it that in this day and age, with the knowledge available to most industrial and post-industrial nations, that astrology is so popular? Could it actually be a viable means of telling the future, or a person's psychology?

So far, that answer is an emphatic NO, from the scientific community. Despite the fact that one Gallup poll found that an estimated 50% of Americans believe in astrology, there has been no scientifically valid evidence to back up this belief. On the contrary, there are quite a lot of counterexamples for it. In fact, there are so many counter-examples to the validity of astrology, that most scientists just dismiss it as a fun diversion. Still, for the sake of closure, a few such examples are given below.

For starters, we have the arbitrary nature of astronomical symbols themselves. All the traditional planets of our solar system (i.e. none of the recently discovered planetary candidates), were named after Roman gods. This assignment was completely arbitrary. There might have been some logic behind it (Mars is red, war has blood, etc.), but overall there is no real reason to think that just because Venus was named after the goddess of love, that it should hold any sway over one's relationships. If the "effects" of the planets on people, had any real relationship to the planets themselves, then Venus should be the ruler of bad gas, not love.

Other things to consider are the fact that many astrological terms, are holdovers from a time when the Earth was believed to be the center of the universe (geocentric). As such, astrologers still talk about cycles and epicycles. How many times has one heard an astrologer (or astrology minded individual) say that "Mars is in retrograde."

Then there is the fact that Uranus, Neptune and Pluto have only been discovered within the past 250 years. Many astrologers assert that astrological techniques have been accurate for numerous centuries. If planets affect people, then one cannot discount these three; which is to say nothing of the recently discovered "10th planet."

Another nail in the proverbial coffin is the mysterious omission of the 13th sign of the zodiac: Ophiuchus. This constellation falls along the ecliptic, and houses the sun during one month of the year (December). Yet modern astrologers choose to ignore the "serpent bearer," in favour of the 12 zodiac symbols. The reason, they cite, is the turbid history of the constellation. Ophiuchus lies in a spot in the sky, which once housed multiple constellations. This argument tends to fall apart, though, when one considers that the ancient Greeks, as well as "father of modern astrology," Claudius Ptolemeaus, both considered Ophiuchus to be a valid constellation. The more likely scenario seems to be that 12 zodiac symbols fit rather well with the 12 months in the Gregorian calendar. As such, the reason for the omission seems to be convenience and aesthetics, rather than any real problem with the constellation itself.

Two more examples of where astrology fails the test of validity include twin studies and the affect of precession. With twin studies, one sees how two people born at the same time and same place are able to lead lives completely different from each other, even though their astrological horoscope should work for both of them. The affect of precession is even more interesting.

As Earth spins through the universe, it "wobbles" along its axis due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. This wobble can be compared to the wobble that we see when we spin a top. Even when the top spins very fast, one can still see it make a small circle on the area it is spinning. The Earth does something very similar to this. The geographic North Pole makes a 23.5◦ arc around, what's known as, the ecliptic pole. This precession proceeds at a rate of 1◦ for every 180 years.

Because of this, the placement of the constellations in the night sky, no longer conforms to their position in the original tropical zodiac. Every zodiac symbol is now off by 1 month. So if one is born in the constellation Virgo, they are actually in the constellation Libra, and so on. There is a separate type of astrology called: Sidereal Astrology. It does take into account, the precession of the planet. It does this by deducting ~24◦ from the constellations. Both versions still suffer from the fact that the constellations themselves, are not of equal size, and thus, do not fit neatly into the 12, 30◦ "slices" of the sky, that astrologers have assigned them to. As such, constellation overlap still occurs.

More examples include the affect of gravity (why worry about Saturn's pull, when the moon's pull is so much stronger!), to magnetic field affects (modern electronics produce magnetic fields much more powerful than Earth's).

Astrology can be a fun and entertaining diversion for many, but one should always keep in mind that it is for entertainment purposes only.

"There is hardly an absurdity of the past that cannot be found flourishing somewhere in the present." - Will Durant

About the Author

The Iconoclast is a student at the University Of New Mexico and part of the web building team at http://www.gifteteria.com/.




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